The Bawming of the Thorn

Appleton Thorn by Robert Bateman, 1880. Warrington Museum.
Appleton Thorn by Robert Bateman, 1880. Warrington Museum.
Tree of Life Necklace by Feral Strumpet.
Tree of Life Necklace by Feral Strumpet.

Once there was a time when we knew the trees and they knew us.  They were planted in the middle of villages and were considered guardians of a place.  On Old Midsummer Day, July 5th,  the third Saturday in June or there abouts, these guardian trees were adorned with garlands, ribbons, flowers and flags. Appleton Thorn in Cheshire is named after such a hawthorn tree and here this tradition, called the Bawming of the Thorn, continues.  The  tree there is said to be an offshoot of the legendary Glastonbury thorn, a tree with its own fascinating history.  Legend claims it was brought from Jerusalem to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea and was the same tree from which the crown of thorns was made.  Others claim this fantastic story was a creation of the monks who wished to discourage the use of the Hawthorn in pagan rituals and yet still wished use its power to promote their Christian faith.

Tree of Life Earrings in silver by Feral Strumpet
Tree of Life Earrings in silver by Feral Strumpet
Sarah wearing the Tree of Life in Brass
Sarah wearing the Tree of Life in Brass

The hawthorn is the May Tree or White Thorn– with it’s beautiful white flowers juxtaposed against its sinister thorns. Washing in the dew gathered from the white petaled flowers was a Old Tyme beauty tip. Witches made their brooms from them– perhaps because the hawthorne is the gateway to the fairy realms, the Otherworld.  Vivian imprisoned Merlin in a cage of Hawthorne branches, using his own spell against him and it was under a Hawthorne that the Queen of May captured Thomas the Rhymer. Hawthorns often stand guard over sacred wells– and in these manifestations in story and landscape do seem to suggest the Yggdrasil, a tree linking this world with other realms.

What survives of these notions fascinates me. These happy village fetes, celebrating a tree with song and dance– is this a kind of Druidic hold over? A dream writ in Ogham on our collective subconscious? In England these ancient ideas manifest with fanfare– brass bands and Morris dancing. People still gather– they say it is for the sake of tradition– that it as has always been so, but I like to think there is something else here, feeding the imagination, talking back to our ancient guardians telling them we have not forgotten them.

World Tree Earrings in Brass by Feral Strumpet
World Tree Earrings in Brass by Feral Strumpet

 

 

 

Oak Apple Day

The mounted Garland King, Castelton, Derbyshire (source-- wikipedia commons)
The mounted Garland King, Castelton, Derbyshire (source– wikipedia commons)

Yesterday was that abolished holiday, Oak Apple Day, celebrating the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660.  Charles II, before he regained power, hid himself in an oak tree, or so the story goes. For the last 400+ years, Britain has used this as a way to worship a tree king.  Ancestral memory dies hard in these parts.

Before the holiday was abolished in the mid 19th century, shops and churches, horses and railway engines were adorned with oak boughs. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak on the day risked being pelted with eggs or scourged with nettle.

Some customs from the holiday survive in recent memory, taking on aspects of the pagan green man in their celebrations.  In Castleton in Derbyshire, the Garland King procession continues.  A man, mounted on a horse, is completely covered in a cone of flowers– the topmost posey is called “The Queen” and crowns him.  The village follows him (along with a good number of day-trippers) from pub to pub, brass band in tow. At the end of the day’s journey, the floral cone is hoisted by a rope from the church tower, looking very much like the head of a vanquished foe on display. All across the isle, from the Burryman in Queensferry to the Jack in the Green in Hastings, the leafy king sacrifices himself so that we may have a few summer days. If you’ve lived through one wet Yorkshire summer, you know why this is worth a blood sacrifice, even by proxy!

The Oak King's Bride in copper plate by Feral Strumpet
The Oak King’s Bride in copper plate by Feral Strumpet

Here is my Oak King’s Bride. It’s a design I made three years ago. It was one of the first in my shop and it has since become a best seller as well as a signature design.  I make it in copper plate, brass and sterling silver plate (the Oak King’s Bride in Winter).  For more Oak King inspired designs, go here.

Telling the Bees

beesSpring is sidling up to us in the North of England, and the earth waits for it, eagerly. Bulbs in the garden, the same ones who took last year off, making me think the pots were just full of my gardening mishaps, have decided to make a go of it again, putting up their thick green fingers. I’ve taken this as a good sign.

I’m waiting for the bees to show so I can really celebrate. My most recent design was inspired by the old English folk custom called “Telling the Bees”. When there was a birth, death or wedding in the family, the bees in the resident hive would need to be invited to the funeral. Sometimes an offering of wedding cake or funeral biscuits would be made. The name of the dead would be sung to them, as in John Greenleaf Whittier’s sentimental yet moving poem, Telling the Bees. To neglect doing this might result in the bees swarming and the hive would be lost. This is now happening on Earth on a catastrophic scale. Bees are in terrible trouble due to pesticide use and habitat destruction, but that is a topic for another post. In other folklore bees are messengers between this reality and the next– the keepers of cosmic secrets. They flit between worlds, through doors we can’t cross, these harbingers of Spring.

The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore
The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore

This necklace design was also inspired by a dear customer of mine, Niina, who told me about her special bee-mother ritual. With her permission, I quote it here:

I love bumble bees so much but at the moment the winter here in Finland seems endless. There are days when the winter really gets my spirit down and then I think of the brave bumble bee Mothers, under ground and all that snow, hanging in there and waiting for the Spring. Me and my man have this celebration of our own: the Bumble Bee Feast! It happens the day when one of us (or both) sees the very first bumble bee of the Spring. If not possible (sometimes work and stuff gets in the way of important things in life), then the next possible day. The celebration is simple: we put honey and sugar outside in yellow bowls so the hungry, brave Mothers can come and eat and get stronger. After that we just eat and drink something good, toast for the Bumble Bee Mothers who made it and just like that broke the backbone of the mighty Winter! Winter can try and struggle and yes, there will be cold, bad days, but his time is over, the bumble bee brings on the Spring!! We get tipsy and so happy: we made it through another horrible winter and nothing can stop the Spring now!!

May we all see the bee mothers soon, soon!

Visiting the Troy Town Turf Maze

City of Troy Turf Maze
City of Troy Turf Maze near Dalby, North Yorkshire

Last weekend we visited the smallest turf maze in Europe, The City of Troy. A Classic “seeded” labyrinth, it’s about the size of a very small sitting room, situated right off the road. There’s a plaque and bench nearby for musing on this tiny, sacred structure. This maze is very well cared for and visible. It may not be very old, perhaps only Victorian. According to Labyrinthos.net, this maze was moved in 1900 and probably dates from the mid-19th century, but the intention of the thing is quite ancient. So much of English folklore is fuelled by just such mysterious whimsy.  The plaque suggests this is a waiting place for lost souls who may be consulted at the centre!  This is an echo of older belief amongst diverse cultures which sees the labyrinth as a path to the ancestors or itself an ancestor.

The labyrinth is also known as Troy Town, and the sign beside it says the origins may come from a the Scandinavian Bronze-age Trojaborg Labyrinth which is made of stones. Much of the landscape here is wedded, linguistically and otherwise, to our Viking ancestors.  Sometimes these labyrinths are called Maiden’s Dance, which is a shadow of what was perhaps a symbol of the Goddess, particularly Ariadne, keeper of Labyrinths and goddess of dance.

Mazes and dancing: there’s a connection. Once, Kimberly MacKoy, one of my dance teachers, said when we were doing a particularly difficult drill, “Welcome to the labyrinth of your body.”  (Talk about a goddess!) This “classic” labyrinth style is found all over the world, and is thousands of years old. It has seven circuits which correspond to many sacred sevens, including the “spinning wheels” or chakras of the body.  “Caerdroia” is a Welsh name for labyrinth, translates to “castle of turns”, which brings to mind Arianrhod, the goddess of the “silver wheel” of the moon and her spinning castle.

It is easy to draw a classic labyrinth, as you can see below. It looks almost like those old fashioned dance diagrams.

how to draw a labyrinth
How to draw a seeded labyrinth, from the Labyrinth Nework Resources for Children

Some say a dance is at the root of this drawing of the labyrinth, and Jacques Hébert has proposed a choreography here.

Though the plaque by the City of Troy states this is a “game”- it is more often used as a meditative device as it is a metaphor for the journey of life.  I have a dear friend who has a tattoo of this maze on her shoulder. She is a dancer, too. I can imagine her dancing the maze, this “castle of turns” with the new yellow wheat all round, just as it was on this summer day, like the hair of so many maidens, lush and waving atop the Howardian Hills.

Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, by Feral Strumpet. For more labyrinth-inspired designs, go to my shop.
Chartres Labyrinth Necklace, by Feral Strumpet. For more labyrinth-inspired designs, go to my shop.